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Two-time World Cup veteran Roger Espinoza may be entering the twilight of his career at Sporting Kansas City, and although the Honduran still has gas left in the tank, he may not be too far away from passing the combative midfield torch to a blossoming 22-year-old Homegrown Player.

Felipe Hernandez—who joined the Sporting Kansas City Academy in 2014, signed a professional contract with Sporting KC II in 2017 and jumped to the first team 12 months ago—has earned legitimate playing time over the last few weeks as Manager Peter Vermes’ side navigates a congested fixture list. The box-to-box midfielder has made the most of his opportunity, as well, starting four consecutive matches and making seven overall MLS appearances since late July.

The Colombian-born Hernandez, who grew up in Tennessee before moving to Kansas City six years ago, enjoyed a strong period of development at the USL Championship level from 2017-2019. He finished last season with eight goals for Sporting KC II and was named the club’s most valuable player at the end of the campaign. That momentum effectively carried into 2020, as Hernandez has now carved himself a useful role in the middle of the park.

“It’s tough to transition from playing USL minutes to all of the sudden playing MLS minutes,” Hernandez said Tuesday on the Sporting Kansas City Show. “I’ve been gaining confidence with every game and every appearance I make. It’s always good to get a run in every game because every game builds towards something better.”

Hernandez recorded a secondary assist in Sporting’s 1-1 home draw against FC Dallas on Sept. 2 and logged his first 90-minute MLS outing in a vital 1-0 victory over Minnesota United FC on Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park. His tireless engine and scrappiness in the central areas has drawn comparisons to Espinoza, who has shouldered longstanding responsibilities as the club’s midfield destroyer.

As fate would have it, Espinoza was one of the first people to notice similarities between his game and that of the younger Hernandez.

“Ever since I joined the Academy, Roger was one of the first guys trying to talk to me and welcome me to the team—just trying to make me feel comfortable,” Hernandez said. “A few days ago, he told me, ‘There’s no one else in this world who plays the same position as you do who will tell you as much as I do. I tell you everything to do, you do it, and it puts you on the field.’ He’s always been a nice guy and a great teammate.”

Hernandez said that Espinoza gives him advice and pointers on a near-daily basis, serving as a valuable mentor who has played at the highest levels of the sport—specifically in two World Cups with Honduras and in the English Premier League with Wigan Athletic.

When asked to provide a specific example, Hernandez relayed the following story:

“Last week (Roger) told me, ‘I’m telling you—you need to win three balls. I don’t care if you intercept them, pick someone off, strip them, whatever it is. I just want you to win three balls and we’ll get a result.’ After the game, he said, “See, I told you—you did it and we won the game. I’m never wrong; I’m telling you the right things to do.’ Everything he says has become (true).”

Sure enough, Hernandez finished the match with two recoveries, two duels won, one successful tackle and an interception. Construed in another way, he won six balls.

Having played six times in the previous three weeks, Hernandez and Sporting will have little rest for the weary. Vermes' men will return to Children's Mercy Park on Saturday as the next phase of the club's regular season campaign begins against FC Dallas at 2:30 p.m. CT. FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO will provide three hours of live coverage on Saturday, while Univision and TUDN will air a national telecast in Spanish. Listeners can also catch the action locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM, with The Final Whistle postgame show immediately afterward on 810 WHB.

A limited number of tickets for Saturday's contest are available at while supplies last. Sporting's next two home games on Sept. 19 and 23 will be held at a reduced capacity of 18% with comprehensive health and safety protocols in place.